Transitioning from junior high to high school was by far the easiest and best of all transitions. Now that mainstreaming is the norm, teachers, students, and administration are better prepared to accept it. We still had issues from time to time, but I found my best support system was the administration in the high school. We were very fortunate that our counselor and therapists served as advocates for Michael.
Types of problems one may expect in high school? Again the lockers can be a challenge. Eventually Michael used a small therapy room as a locker. Many times he carried all of his books and his wheelchair would become very weighted. It isn’t all that easy getting around with an additional 30-40 pounds on the back of a wheelchair.
Another issue was the attitude of some students. Although most were great, some students refused to move for Michael in the hallways or intentionally block his way. We’ve had issues with theft. It’s easy for people to grab items from his backpack without his knowledge. Once, a student broke the handle off of the back of Michael’s chair. There was no apology, Michael didn’t know him, and the kids just laughed. This is completely uncalled for. The school offered to pay for the repair, but my insurance covered the bill. Still it is frustrating to think that there are such unkind individuals out there.
Many times paths would not be shoveled in time for buses to arrive or leave. Michael has been stranded many times on campus and many individuals just walk around him. I did contact the school and explained they need to be aware that the walkway needs to be cleared before the bus arrives. I actually witnessed Michael one day coming across campus to meet me for a doctor’s appointment. He was stuck in the snow and student after student walked right around him. I wondered what would have happened if I wasn’t there. It’s thoughts like those that keep me awake at night.
At the end of Michael’s junior year, he had multiple surgeries at Gillette Children’s Hospital in Minnesota. It is a wonderful facility that specializes in cerebral palsy. Michael’s feet were re-constructed, his kneecaps were moved down an inch, and several bones were broken and re-aligned. Our entire summer was spent in hospitals. At the end of summer, Michael took his first steps ever independently! They are not functional – meaning at this point he can take steps to say he can take them, but he can only maneuver across a room with much difficulty. Still, I can not explain the thrill I received to see Michael’s face when he finally walked at the age of 17. In Michael’s words, “It’s like you just learned to fly, you just want to keep doing it.”
(Photos to the right is the result of ten reset bones and reconstruction of Michael’s body from the hips to the feet. It was a terribly painful and difficult time. Looking back, I don’t know how we made it through and yet I wouldn’t change a thing.)
Michael had a big goal. He wanted to walk at graduation and receive his diploma. We drove him to Mary Free Bed Hospital in Grand Rapids, 45 minutes away from home, twice a week from August through April that year. Michael practiced, practiced, and practiced walking well enough to receive his diploma.
The big day came and Michael was nervous. His therapist practiced with him on the bridge of the stage. Luckily there was a rail that gave Michael a great sense of comfort and something to lean on if necessary. I think Michael would have backed out if I had let him. This is where that strong motherly feeling kicks in and I knew that
Michael would regret not walking that evening and would always wonder if he could have done it. I could not let his fear stop him. But sitting in the arena with a packed crowd, I felt so sick to my stomach. I was so nervous for him. If he fell, he would be devastated.
Over 200 students graduated that day. Michael’s name was called and he walked to the bridge with his forearm crutches. Names were continuously called as graduates walk to the bridge. Michael reached the stage and handed his crutches to an administrator and started stepping across the bridge unassisted. The crowd started to notice. A section of the arena containing teachers knew what was happening and started to clap. Strangers sitting in front of me started to cry and our entire section stood and clapped and cheered. I screamed so loudly that I lost my voice and could not talk for a week. People all over the arena were cheering for Michael. Michael made it across the bridge, collected his crutches, and walked to his seat. I asked him later how he felt, and he said that he was so focused on walking across that he could not hear anything. This moment will go down as one of my top ten best moments of my life.
(The results of a year long hard work, challenges, tears, and pain. This was Michael’s first steps at the age of 17. On this day he said to me, “Mom it’s like you just learned how to fly. You just want to keep doing it.” For those of you who have read my previous pages, you should know that I danced with Michael this day and it was tears of joy this time. )